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Babes in Toyland (1934); Laurel and Hardy
Topic Started: Feb 4 2012, 02:32 PM (487 Views)
outerlimit
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I have the UK set of Laurel and Hardy films and in the light of the recent interest in the latest set to appear in the United States I decided to have a look at this film which has been retitled" March of the Wooden Soldiers" and was not included in the set that I have.

This film was based upon an operetta by Victor Herbert and made at a time when Hollywood seemed to see it as its duty to expose comedians to opera or at least music.(perhaps because talkies was still quite young)

It was made in black and white and Henry Brandon who portrayed the villainous landlord apparently was very sad that it had not been made in color as he remembered the vivid colors of the sets . I can understand his view as the film deserved more than shades of grey.....

The film has in fact been colourised more than once; the latest being by Legend Films. I have not seen their effort-GoodTimes some years ago put out on DVD the colorised version by American Film Technologies for Goldwyn done in 1991. That is the copy that I have and I must say that I am delighted with it. The color is almost reminiscent of Technicolor and really brings out the detail in the marvellous sets making them truly look like a precursor of the Wizard of Oz,also an MGM picture.It is so good that I wonder why Legend Films have had a second try .

It is of course always a delight to see Stan and Ollie and they are not out of place in a children's fantasy such as this. The problem I am afraid, is the music… With the exception of "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?" (Borrowed with permission from Walt Disney) the songs are in no way memorable or catchy and simply slow down the story. The songs seem very dated and I doubt whether today's children would appreciate the movie,although perhaps they would like the Bogey men!

It is of course a must in Stan and Ollie fans' collections and a film that I know many are fond of. On a scale of 1 to 10 I would give it 7.
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Sgt King
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I have always liked this film and have it in both b/w and colorization. IMHO the color version is great and really enhances the enjoyment!!
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CliffClaven
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Interesting to contrast with the later (and invariably inferior) versions that followed:

-- Disney's offered a lot of Disneylandish eye candy and great random moments (have to like a film where the leading man is bashed with a mallet that sinks him three feet into the ground), but the story fell apart once they got to a pretty sad Toyland with two residents and shrink ray. Also, Mary Mary (Annette, looking very fetching) was written to be almost annoyingly puritanical. Her lyrics on the big romantic ballad boil down to "Wait'll we're married, hotshot." Henry Calvin and Gene Sheldon were always playing off each other on the Zorro series; here Calvin was clearly channeling Oliver Hardy (with a bigger and deeper singing voice) while Sheldon seemed to be going for Harry Langdon, complete with dented hat. Fun to look at; something to run with volume off during a party.

-- A TV version, originally a four-hour miniseries, offered little Drew Barrymore as a kid who gets sent off to a Toyland that resembles either a cheap amusement park or an unfinished industrial park with trimmings. Playwright Paul Zindel is credited with the script, which is pretty weak and recycles Wizard of Oz's just-a-dream framework, where characters introduced in the real world turn up playing similar roles in the fantasy. Money was spent, but it manages to look a bit cheap and careless -- When the toy soldiers march, you can see the exposed, unpainted necks under the white masks. Herbert's tunes are mostly AWOL and the new score is mostly missing from the existing video version. Paging Rifftracks.

-- The most recent, an animated version, features a mostly new score plus overly Disneyesque characters -- the heroine is almost a ringer for Belle -- and a climax that rather obviously follows L&H, pitting toy soldiers against batlike critters standing in for the bogeymen. The traditional-looking soldiers are incongruously pimped out with jet packs and such -- if this were a bigger project I'd guess there were merchandizing plans. Humpty Dumpty is a major character, and he doesn't appear in the other versions (although the Barrymore version has a static prop the extras try to interact with).

There's a reason why the various adaptations are so dissimilar. The original Broadway show was more a spectacle that a coherent story, even by operetta standards. There were two pairs of romantic leads, some other couples who were evidently specialty dance acts, odd comedy songs, and truly random plotting. The show opens with a ship sinking -- onstage -- during an electrical storm, and later we see the toymaker's castle collapse (the toymaker, by the way is actually a villain who hates kids as much as Barnaby does). Everybody who revives the show in any form tends to jettison the book entirely, keeping only some character names and a portion of the music. L&H kept more of the original score than most -- including some songs as background themes -- but they went with an original story as well as original characters for Stan and Babe.
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Laughing Gravy
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My Dec. 2 Christmassy review was Babes in Toyland (1934, dir. Gus Meins & Charley Rogers)

Oh, in the history of movies, there have been more successful comics, I suppose, than Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy, more famous, more popular, more influential. But has ANYBODY generated as many laughs? Is there any other comedy team that you can say is as beloved? And are any of their features more loved than this one?

Loosely (very) based on the Victor Herbert operetta; Stannie Dum and Ollie Dee are toymakers in Toyland, and not very good ones, I'm afraid. They accidentally build 100 6 ft. high soldiers instead of 600 1 ft. high toys; they fail to help Mother Bo Peep keep her shoe from being repossessed; and their attempts to thwart the evil Barnaby, who has designs on the virginal Little Bo Peep, go spectacularly awry. Luckily, when Barnaby unleashes the hordes of Boogeymen from Boogeyland to attack Toyland, those 100 soldiers are around to protect Santa Claus, King Cole, Bo Peep and the rest of Toyland.

A perennial holiday favorite; if you live anywhere decent this is shown on one of your local TV channels every holiday season. I love everything about it; Stan & Ollie at their peak (and oh my goodness, how producer Hal Roach and funnyman Stan Laurel fought bitterly over the shaping of this particular film!), a charming Charlotte Henry as Bo Peep (a year after portraying the lead in Paramount's all-star misfire Alice in Wonderland), Henry Brandon unforgettable as the villain, and - although used quite sparingly - lovely renditions of a handful of songs from the original Herbert musical. Highly imaginative staging, the Boogeymen are truly terrifying, and Laurel & Hardy at their best - a perfect holiday movie. There are several versions available of the film on DVD; look for the one from MGM, a gorgeous print with the original credits and full running time (the film was re-released, minus a few minutes, as March of the Wooden Soldiers. Indeed, that's the name on the MGM case, but this is the original, full length Babes in Toyland print).
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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Frank Hale
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It’s certainly a great film, and, while I am definitely not one to beat a picture into the ground by watching it every year on schedule, if I were, this would be the one.

Have to say though, that in NYC, WPIX always broadcast it at Thanksgiving, not Christmas, which seems more appropriate to me, and which association has been unalterably engrammed in my brain.
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Laughing Gravy
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Babes in Toyland (1934) Dir. Charley Rogers and Gus Meins

I don't watch this EVERY Thanksgiving, but it's my go-to L&H Thanksgiving movie - as it was this year. Say, didja know that this film has a coveted "100% Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes, which I gather is a very good thing indeed? Well, it does. What a joy this film is.

Million-dollar Dialog:
Bo-Peep gently and considerately turns down Barnaby's marriage proposal: "I wouldn't marry you if you were young, which you can't be, if you were honest, which you never were, and if you were about to die tomorrow, which is too much to hope for!"

I dunno, I think Fra Diavolo is the best L&H musical feature but this one's not far away from it.
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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CliffClaven
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Accept no substitutes. But if if you must ...

-- The 1954-1955 live television version (a DVD has kinescopes of both years). Loud comic Jack E. Leonard is the villain, Dennis Day is the hero, and Dave Garroway (who?) is the narrating Santa Claus. Not in a class with the other 50s spectacles "Peter Pan" and "Cinderella", but with an affably cheesy 50s variety show vibe. The two years are almost but not quite identical: Jo Sullivan and Barbara Cook trade off as the heroine; likewise two clown acts. The second year dispenses with a goofy dancing spider and Leonard scrambles some lines.

-- The 1961 Disney version. Not much of a movie, but bursting with boomer-era Disneyness in design, music, casting, etc. Good to leave running in the background for its colors and cheeriness. Like the L&H version, there's a single stop-motion toy soldier parade near the climax. The soldiers still appear in the Disneyland Christmas parade.

-- The 1986 TV version with Keanu Reeves, Richard Mulligan, and child star Drew Barrymore. Makes the Disney version look like Citizen Kane. Originally a two-night miniseries, it was boiled down to something like 90 minutes and given away as a VHS video at McDonald's. It was shot abroad, in what looks like an industrial site repurposed as a bargain theme park. I have this morbid desire to see the long version, which had more songs.

-- The 1997 direct-to-video animation. Slick animation, but a shameless (and often random) Disney knockoff. The heroine is lawsuit-similar to Belle; Toyland is full of Roger Rabbit-type talking objects; and there's the old fake death bit with Humpty Dumpty. Also swipes from the L&H version (did they think that one was faithful to the original play?). The toy soldiers that route the goblins are fitted out with Transformer-type armaments.
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